It took me a long time to learn the proper approach to change management.

“Do it my way and we’ll all be happy” used to be my mantra.

It was my approach to life, business management and spiritual leadership. It’s what I learned in the rough and tumble world of a perishable commodities broker and later in managing construction crews.

It’s taken me a years, a few wounds and a some bumps and bruises to learn a hard truth: leadership isn’t convincing others you know the way to go, it’s helping them discover that for themselves.

This is similar to a truism I learned in sales. With a prospective buyer, if I say it, it might be true. If you say it, it is true. In coaching, in sales and in spiritual leadership – particularly leadership focused on change management – the trick is to get them to say it.

Fortunately this insight didn’t come too late; it has served me well as an intentional interim pastor. Change management involves the art of getting the other party to say it for themselves.

A key tool to resolving change resistance is using good questions, just like a good coach.

Dissolve resistance with questions

Good interim pastors use process to recruit church members to champion change. When they join the team they will do the hard work of implementing change. For me, the most effective way to recruit church members and get whole hearted endorsement is to play the role of the coach. Ask questions and listen. Lyle Schaller indicates the critical importance of asking good questions and listening before formulating an agenda.

For the newly arrived pastor, this often means moving beyond the recommended formulas of the 1950s of “listening and learning.” The new formula for that recently arrived pastor begins with “asking questions, asking questions, listening, asking questions, learning, asking questions, listening, and formulating a tentative agenda.” Lyle Schaller, The Interventionist, p. 14.

The key is to use open-ended questions that afford people an opportunity to re-think their presuppositions, their values and personal preferences. A direct assault in these areas provokes a protective reaction; it is unproductive. But a skillful coach invites them to explore these issues without provoking that protective reaction.

Since most churches need to brush up their mission statements and formulate fresh vision, let’s think through some questions that you can pose in these areas.

Questions to prepare for refreshed mission

Mission is a statement that answers the “Why?” question. It explains why this church exists. People will think about the mission in response to well crafted, open-ended questions.

  • Why did God create the church?
  • What would you like to see as a metaphor or image to describe this church going forward?
  • How does the gospel message shape your life?
  • For whom has God give you a real passion to help?
  • What are the greatest needs of the people who live near the church?
  • What steps can we, as a church, take to insure that our actions match our aspirations?

Questions to prepare for new vision

Vision is a statement that answers the “What?” question. It explains what this church will do to move toward fulfillment of its mission. You help people develop concrete answers with questions like these:

  • Where have you seen God at work in our community?
  • What unique strengths do we have as a congregation?
  • How can we become more helpful by responding to the needs around us?
  • What are some creative ways we can meet them and introduce ourselves?
  • Where will we go to acquire additional resources to be even more helpful?
  • When will we show them the attractive love of Jesus so they will eventually be open to the good news?
  • Why is this church unique from other churches in the area?

Force Multiplier

Now here’s another important insight: if you train your church leaders to ask these questions and feed back their responses you will be multiplying the effect! An assessment report to the church leaders, along with recommendations, may be well received or not. It may be seen as a summary of your findings. But if the leaders ask these questions, collate the responses and report back to the leadership team they will own the responses. They will see for themselves what the congregation is thinking.

That’s smart leadership.


How have you used questions to accomplish a difficult change or transition in your church?

Where are the appropriate places to use open-ended questions in your leadership style?